Council approves budget

The Kaua‘i County Council yesterday at the Historic County Building unanimously approved a $158 million operating budget for next fiscal year, which starts July 1.

The vote came after 10 weeks of intense department-by-department, line-by-line scrutiny. The officials, who championed wide-ranging programs and positions, were often visibly emotional during the grueling give-and-take process.

“We tried to be as responsible as we could in spending the taxpayers’ dollars,” said Councilman Ron Kouchi, who oversaw the hours-long budget hearings as the Committee of the Whole chair.

The council also unanimously approved a $65.2 million capital improvement programs budget, which includes funding for development plans and road repairs.

Mayor Bryan Baptiste has 10 days to sign the bills or they become law without his signature. The administration said yesterday that there are no plans to veto the budgets. “The budget process should be a reflection of the needs and concerns of the community, County Council and the administration, and confirms the importance of mutual support,” Baptiste said in an e-mail statement.

“As we can all sense, we are moving into a new era,” Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura said. “From the closure of Aloha Airlines to the rapidly rising price of gasoline, it is clear that we can no longer rely on the assumption that has run our lives and businesses for a long time — the assumption of cheap oil. Like any crisis, this signals both danger and opportunity.”

The approved budget, which includes dramatic increases in funding for The Kaua‘i Bus and money for an energy sustainability plan, will help the county prepare for a new time in the history of Kaua‘i and humankind, she said.

“This is very important if we want to minimize hardships and have a smooth transition to a more sustainable way of living,” she said.

“I am pleased that a major concern of our residents will be addressed with the expansion of bus services,” Baptiste said in the e-mail statement.

The council included a general provision change in the budget that requires the administration to submit to council an informational report within 30 days of transferring or changing positions in all salary accounts.

If the council approves funding for a park planner, the county should hire a park planner, Councilman Mel Rapozo said.

He called the “bait and switch” tactic a “disservice to the community.”

The approved budget creates some 20 new positions. They include a new personnel clerk, two planning inspectors, a legal analyst, community relations program specialists in the fire and police departments, three water safety officers, a building permit clerk, three parks security officers and a new groundskeeper at the veterans cemetery.

Rapozo said it was a “tough budget session” dealing with “seven hard-headed council members” who each feel they have the right vision for the future of the island.

“We are a long way from where we need to be … but it is what it is,” he said. “We’re open to suggestions 365 days a year.”

The council voted to give “a one shot infusion” to keep some programs alive for another year while the state seeks ways to restore funding, Kouchi said.

He cited the civil air patrol, which provides an islandwide aerial alert to residents of an impending tsunami or other disaster, as an example.

The council approved $30,000 to keep the program alive next year, he said, despite it arguably being the state’s responsibility to alert beachgoers and hikers in remote state parks.

Kouchi said the council could not bear the thought of even one person being caught without a fair warning.

He said he remains hopeful that in the ensuing year the county can dialog with the state about its responsibility and see that it steps back up to the job.

“In a time of rising energy prices and a downturn in the economy, it is more important than ever that we find ways to do things more efficiently and effectively, that we reduce waste and find ways to increase jobs,” Yukimura said.

She pointed to several things “in the hopper” that will help the county accomplish this goal. For example, a clerical position in the Personnel Department will help clear a three-year backlog in county employee files that will enable that office to better serve employee needs.

For more information, visit www.kauai.gov.

• Nathan Eagle, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or neagle@kauaipubco.com

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